Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Sharon E. Sasaki

Like everyone else who has contributed a bio so far, I have also read a great deal of science fiction, starting with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time at age seven and Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein not long after that. I was hooked and have read many of the great authors that others have listed. You all have great taste in books! What caught my eye with Neal Asher’s Gridlinked in 2006. Here was an author who had more futuristic ideas scattered on every page than many SF authors had in their entire book! And he was introducing these new concepts with a single word!: aug, chainglass, plasteel, runcible, U-space, etched sapphires, the Polity. Mind Blown.

In The Skinner, again Asher introduced multitudinous mind-bending ideas as if they were commonplace and I loved his characters: the Old Captains, the war drones, the hive-mind, even the leeches. His understanding of biology was extensive and impressive. So many ideas spinning around in my mind, I thought I had found the motherlode! I have bought everything of his I can get my hands on. Still searching for a Mason’s Rats. Haha!

Neal said write about yourself and your life. I am a Canadian woman of Japanese descent. Both sets of grandparents came to Canada around the 1900s. My father’s family was interned during WWII in a camp as possible enemy aliens. They lost everything. My father never felt anger about what happened. These things happened in wartime. At least he was not deported to Japan and he survived the war. So many young men did not. I got to grow up in a country that allowed women to study medicine and become doctors. I originally was in a PhD program in Neurophysiology but I got bored so I completed a M.Sc. in Neuroscience before I went into medicine. I found research was not for me; no people contact!

I practiced as a family physician in a small rural town in Southern Ontario while I raised a beautiful son and a daughter with my husband, David. In Canada, people do not comment on the fact that I am Asian and David is Caucasian. I am Japanese heritage and David was born in England, I was baptized a Protestant and David a Catholic. People are most shocked that I am a physician and he is a chiropractor. Even that is being more accepted these days. That is Canada, for you.

What I really want to tell you about is the place I work. I am a surgical assistant at a community hospital in Southern Ontario and we are a United Nations at work. Everyone not only gets along, we love where we work and the individuals we work with. We have physicians - anesthetists, surgeons, gynecologists, internists from Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Canada, Egypt, Ghana, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Taiwan, Slovakia, etc. We have physicians who are Catholic, Protestant, Coptic Christian, Orthodox, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Atheist (I am not aware of any practicing Buddhists). We have gays, lesbians, transgender individuals and heterosexuals among all of the employees in the surgical department. I think our differences make us stronger. We Canadians appreciate so much more what we have because we work with people who have risked their lives, left their families, been in jail, and risked death to come to Canada. We learn about other people’s customs and they are not evil. I find it an honour and privilege to work with these individuals who have so much to give to our society. When one works towards a common goal - treating people and saving lives - differences in people don’t count. It is the humanity in us all that binds us together and makes us such a powerful force for the good of the community. I wish other countries could see our small hospital in action.

I began writing science fiction to try and give people a sense of what it is like to be in a medical facility where differences don’t matter. I placed the medical hospital in the future in space and used androids and robots to tackle the issue of prejudice. The books are humorous because I am a teeny weeny bit of a joker - not just with Neal. (It is a disease).

(The links are here if anyone is interested in checking them out. The first book, Welcome to the Madhouse by S.E. Sasaki, is free on most sites and the second book, Bud by the Grace of God, is available until end of September for $0.99. Then it returns to $4.99. I hope you enjoy them and they make you laugh out loud. Sorry for the shameless plug but Neal encouraged me more than once to put them in!)

If I can make one appeal on this blog, which reaches people from all over the world, please reach out to others who are not of your country, your race, your religion, your gender, your community and try and find common ground. The Other is not so scary or so different when you get to know him or her. Under the few millimeters of skin, we are all the same. I know. We open people up every day and everyone by and large are built the same on the inside. Why do people think the amount of melanin in the skin cells is so important? It’s not.

Thank you for your attention,


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Sean Sutherland

Dear readers,

My name is Sean Sutherland, and I’m a 30 year old Physics teacher originally from Halifax, Yorkshire but now residing in rural Lincolnshire. Aside from the obvious interest in Science, I’m also very keen on strength training and compete in the sport of powerlifting - Socrates himself said, ‘It is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit’. Not too sure I’ve got the beauty part covered though.

I can remember back when I was around 6 years old, being allowed to spend a lot of time in the library of my first school, picking out my first books - always revolving around some sort of fantasy element. First book that springs to mind was a classic about a Dinosaur Called Minerva with a sore tooth! Throughout the rest of my childhood science-fiction was the genre that appealed to my voracious curiosity and captured my imagination the most. I still have strong memories of sci-fi video games such as Battletoads and Star Fox, and spending hours as a teen playing nearly every sci-fi title released. However, throughout my teenage years my reading choices were mostly non-fiction, popular science types such as ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Hawking or ‘Black Holes, Wormholes and Time-Machines’ by Jim Al-Khalili. It was books like these, and my sci-fi oriented childhood that led me to study Physics at University.

A lucky trip into a second-hand bookstore in Preston in 2005 saw me buying two books which changed my reading habits forever: Wheelers by Stewart and Cohen, and Cowl by, a then unknown to me, Neal Asher. The former introduced me to the concept of using complex factual scientific ideas to weave a fictional story - discussing creatures, formed from molecular hydrogen and organic compounds, floating in the clouds of Jupiter. The latter (costing me all of 20p) opened my mind to a new world - it was the hardest sci-fi I’d read to date and it was the first book to bridge the gap between my love for sci-fi games and films, and my love for reading.

Post-Cowl I remember saving up and going on a bit of a shopping spree, buying the Saga of the Seven Suns by Kevin J Anderson (still a favourite, even though not particularly well written), the Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton, the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds, the first three Culture novels by Iain M Banks and every Neal Asher book I could get my nerdy little hands on. This post-cowl glut kept me going for a while, but still to this day Asher/Hamilton/Reynolds are where I go first, and if there is nothing new then I try to expand my horizons a little.

The most notable reads other than my ‘main authors’ have been the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, the Hyperion/Endymion series by Dan Simmons and the ongoing Expanse series by James SA Corey.

All I can say Neal is thank you. Thank you for creating the Polity universe as one of my main escapes, and may there be many more to come!

Sean S

Monday, August 21, 2017

STAN - Brian Aldiss

Sad loss, but the work lives on. Brian Aldiss 18 August 1925 – 19 August 2017. 

In the foreward of Space, time and Nathaniel (NEL 1971), Aldiss asks, ‘What happens to old science fiction? Is it as expendable as last year’s calender?’ to which the answer is, ‘Maybe.’ Nostalgia comes into play, and SF, though usually concerning the future, possesses a history worthy of study. In technical detail, science fiction stories do date quicker than bananas. Already with some of my own short stories I’m finding evidence of a lack of mobile phones, and when you look back to stories published more than thirty-five years ago you can but cringe when Captain Zorge calculates his next hyperspace jump on a slide rule. My edition of Stan (the acronym by which this book came to be known) can only be described as much loved and deeply in need of Sellotape. Just looking at the cover with its acorn-headed failed man gazing with its huge turquoise eyes into some immeasurable distance, sitting cobwebbed on a pile of bones, provides me with the thrill of remembered reading pleasure. Yet, Aldiss says of even this edition, ‘a whiff of period charm hangs over it’. However, Stan contains what for me are some of the classic short stories of the genre, and is well-worth a read for any of those who might think they are doing anything new. My favorite has to be The Failed Men. This excellent time travel story tells of a relief effort run by the fourth millennium Paulls to which twenty-fourth century humans have been recruited – both races brothers in comparison to the people, of millions of years in the future, that they are trying to help. And what is the plight of these last? They have buried themselves alive because they have ‘failed’. Put across in this story is the incredible frustration of the rescuers in trying to find out precisely what is meant by that failure – frustration in some cases leading to despair. No real explanation is offered and it is from this enigma that comes the appeal, that and the sheer story-telling ability. I don’t know whether or not this book is available now. It ought to be, not least for students studying the genre, but mostly because, slide rules aside, a good story is timeless. 

Who Reads my Books: Luke Allen

Alas, I don’t really have much in the way of hobbies. I have many interests but none are really hobbies as such, apart from reading as much as I can (I also doodle absent mindedly and have written the odd short story with varying degrees of success). The fantastical has always held more of an interest for me in all mediums - mainly horror, SF and high fantasy - but SF has been the big draw, especially space opera. I’ve been interested in space since a very young age so there’s something about quests across multiple worlds and star systems, meeting new species and exploring the possibilities of future technology that I’ve always found fascinating.

I guess I started reading Neal Asher’s work thanks to Jon Sullivan. I will admit I’d never heard of Asher, with my knowledge of SF authors at the time being limited to Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton, and I just happened to be looking in the SF/Fantasy section of Southampton Waterstones when I saw a crazy looking book featuring a guy in the cockpit of a spaceship, flying over a lush looking planet, with a shit ton of wires and tentacles sticking out of his back. The book in question was The Line of Polity and I was instantly sold purely based on Jon Sullivan’s artwork. Also turned out this was book two of a series and, ever the completist, I bought all the Agent Cormac books just to find out about that crazy looking man in his spaceship.

Fortunately, it turns out that not only are Asher’s Polity novels terrific, they were what I needed. I got into SF quite late, having fed on a diet of almost exclusively of Stephen King since about the age of 16. It was only after a friend recommended The Forever War by Joe Haldeman that I realised just how special SF could be. Sure, I’d watched Star Wars and the occasional episode of Star Trek TNG, but what The Forever War taught me was that lofty ideas and allegory (in this case, anti-war) could easily be paired with the usual tropes of SF.

What I love about Neal’s work though, is that, yes, he has the lofty ideas and dense science up front and centre but this is all mixed in with enormous sequences of action and lashings of the old ultra-violence. Some of his ideas are also flat out bonkers. Zero Point spends much of its time detailing the hows and whys of inertia-less travel whilst also featuring the highest body count of any book I’ve ever read. The Skinner, one of his best books, has three characters making their way to the planet of Spatterjay for their own ends as well as featuring immortal sea captains and living sails that speak in a cockney accent.

So long as Asher continues to blend the scientific and the outlandish, I'll always read his work. One of his regular characters is a war drone in the shape of a tank-sized scorpion. If that doesn't convince you, nothing will.

Luke Allen

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lament for the Fallen - Gavin Chait

The Man Fell to Earth was the Silver Surfer, but that’s being a bit facetious. I found this slow going at first with its focus on a future African/Nigerian culture, but I cannot fault the world-building here. Another thing that slows this down is that habit Gene Wolfe has of getting characters to tell stories which, to me, adds nothing and is merely a page filler. But as I persevered, and the far-future human turned up occupied by a symbiotic semi-AI, it did engage me. You got the ‘cruelty of Africa’ here and the sense of a future of environmental disaster combined with space elevators, cities in orbit and matter printing. All SF readers are after that sensawunda and this story certainly has it. I noted in comments about this story that the bad guys were too one-dimensionally bad but didn’t think that the case. To me the good guys were too good, too angelic, with too much in the way of hugging and moral probity. It also suffered from the kryptonite factor: I never felt the protagonist was in any danger because he was just too powerful. Also, the high-note terminal conflict then progressed into the kind of wind-down you get at the end of LoTR, which was a little wearing.

However, this is a big book and I read it from cover to cover so there’s that. The writing is engaging and you do care about the characters. It may well be that it simply wasn’t to my taste. I tend to grimace at environmental disaster SF in a future where ‘advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’.  It may will be to your taste so why not give it a try? Here's what some others think:

"Refreshingly different . . . exhilarating . . . a compulsively readable, life-affirming tale told in direct, lambent prose, and Chait does a masterful job of juxtaposing a traditional African setting with a convincing depiction of a far-future alien society." (Eric Brown GUARDIAN)

"Lyrical prose and imaginative world-building . . . the book is gripping, powerful and frequently impressive . . . an ambitious and intelligent work that marks out Chait as a writer worthy of further attention." (Saxon Bullock SFX magazine)

"Richly drawn . . . a smart, ideas-driven novel . . . a promising and ambitious debut." (SCiFiNOW)

"Loved the whole experience as Gavin brought solid world building into the mix alongside cracking pace as well as dialogue that just tripped off the page . . . a great read . . . Magic." (FALCATA TIMES)

"Highly readable . . . Chait should be applauded for managing that all important trick of getting you to keep turning that page until there aren't any left . . . smart, ideas-led science fiction with a literary fiction bent." (STARBURST magazine)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

All People.

I’ve been really enjoying these ‘Who Reads my Books’ posts and I hope that you have too. It brings home to me some thoughts about the anonymity and disconnection from personal interaction on the internet. Very often people don’t use their names or their faces when they post, but that is almost irrelevant. Even when they have a photograph and a name they either are, or are perceived to be, their internet personae. It’s a little bit like Orlandine splitting off her sub-personae – subminds of herself – so assign to discrete tasks.

The internet persona is often a bit of a caricature in which anger, virtue, sarcasm, politics and many other traits predominate. It’s not a real person but a sketch, a presentation, a fa├žade. So much of what is real about them is excluded. Therefore, it’s nice to read these ‘Who Reads my Books’ short autobiographies, with pictures, because I’m seeing more of the real person.

They are people who have lived and are living. They have their worries (or not) about money, health, their partners and children. Some like to stomp up mountains, practise Jiu Jitsu or sit and smoke a good cigar. One is laboring around his new house, another is studying marine biology. A retired school teacher is here and we have a couple who work or have worked in aerospace, while a third is teaching people how not to be fat! One designs gardens and runs marathons, while another races motorbikes and flies drones. Many, I have discovered, work in IT. They are all interesting because, in the end, once you get to know people, they generally are. Though, I’ll be conceited here and say that’s especially the case with my readers!

They are all people; not a name, picture and a line of text to be dismissed. So, if you want to join them, DM me through either my Facebook or Twitter account, and get your autobiography started.    

Friday, August 18, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Subrata Sen

Hi, I’m Subrata (Sub) Sen, and I’m a unrepentant Other Worlds, Other Times addict. I have a strong imaginary internal life. Once invested in an author’s creation, I am reluctant to let go. My dislikes include stories based on real life in current times. I feel I know as much as I need about real life. It all started with my exploits as Superman and The Lone Ranger. Being Indian I nonetheless declined the role of Tonto. I’m no side-kick.

Neal Asher is my current favorite world-builder. I have worn out others in the past. Zelazny, PJ Farmer, Sherri Tepper, Dan Simmons, Glen Cook, Steven Brust - they all abandoned their creations and moved on to new worlds, some where I could not follow, but the dislocations have been difficult. Other excellent story-tellers seem to flit about with new creations in every incarnation. I still enjoy them, but as my focus and attention span has declined greatly since I took care of my dad for his last 5 years (while working full time - but that’s another real life story), and since then acting as my mom’s aug, well, I read less than I used to and stick to a few authors. I look for new worlds mainly by sampling Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov’s. As Neal is younger and fitter than most, I expect he will outlast me. Neal, Jack Vance worked till he was 95.  I do love the fast action, intricate plotting, quirky characters, hard science, gadgets, AIs, weapons and most of the the really big explosions in his Polity. The entire world, galaxy and sometimes all existence is at stake. Waiting for the Jain train is painful (any link to the ancient Jain religion?). I’ve started The Destroyer series (enthralling) on Kindle while I wait.

1952: The accession of Queen Elizabeth II, the birth of Mr.Potato Head, the first hydrogen bomb, the Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya, Mother Teresa’s first home for the dying in Calcutta and my birth in the city’s military hospital on the very day a certain Emperor faced pointed criticism from the Republicans with fatal results two millennia ago. And St. Xavier’s High School is established in Hazaribagh, India by a certain Australian Jesuit priest. Coincidence? I think not.

Ten years later I’m at a Jesuit boarding school in the jungle. I hide in the library reading all the books flowing from the over-supplied Outback to avoid Jesuit supervision and compulsory sports. Mysteries first, Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace, G.K.Chesterton, then Charles Dickens ... eventually HG Wells and in desperation, the collected works of Shakespeare. In 1963, JFK is shot and the school is abuzz. And Andre Norton’s Witch World arrives - other worlds! What a revelation!! The Day of the Triffids becomes the subject for my English Lit class, supervised by an Irish priest partial to whiskey. A year later I find a Penguin edition of The Hobbit in a bookstore in Calcutta. Years of hunting in used bookstores for science fiction and fantasy follow. Van Vogt, Heinlein, Anderson, De Camp, Le Guin. So many worlds. Some are one-off creations, but some, like Norton’s Witch World, Tolkien's middle-earth, Jack Vance’s Old Earth and his space-faring series created entire universes that I could inhabit. Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows opened other worlds, followed by the Chronicles of Amber and many new mixed mythologies.

By 1973 I have an M.Sc. in Physics and an in the States; five more years of study and 2 degrees follow.  A year after I arrived In Austin, Texas my college roommate handed me a Marlin 30-30 lever action and said I was an honorary Texan, and so I am. Trained as a physicist I chose to join an international  oil company and spent the first year in No Trees, West Texas. They let me move on once I can say “Awl Bidness” correctly.

 It’s 1983. I spend the month of January on the Arctic ice shelf testing a well. The sun never breaks the horizon and the Aurora blazes over the entire night sky. I lie on my back with my arms out on the ice to absorb it all for an hour. I am stuck to ice by the time I decide to move. I know I’ve made the right career choice.

Over the years I live in 4 continents, travel in all seven and photograph in over 70 countries. I hike, bike, ski, scuba, play the guitar and compose. I try jumping out of planes and off bridges on bungee cords. After talk by Ray Bradbury I am inspired to write everyday - for a month. However, typing is like playing Battleships. It is only my 4th favorite daily activity, so that is that.

Travel and photography are now my main hobbies. I’ve given up my teaching and consulting. But I have a home in the Olympic Peninsula overlooking the San Juan Straits. I spend a couple of months a year there, a couple of months traveling and the rest in Bangalore where all movement is virtual as the traffic is at a standstill. My photographs end up on eventually.

Picture attached is of my last major hike in 2010 - to the base of Kanchenjunga.

Shattered Minds - Laura Lam

A little while ago I read an article about neural dust and when posting it I quipped, ‘Coming to an SF book near you sometime soon’. Well, it seems Laura Lam was well ahead of me on that one! I really enjoyed Shattered Minds (up to a point I’ll get to in a moment). Here we have hackers vs the nasty corporation, mind control, a morally ambivalent heroine and designer drugs, which had me thinking ‘modern day Neuromancer’. The setting is Pacifica after the Upheaval. Pacifica is California and it’s not clear what the Upheaval was – it could be some political upheaval akin to the kind of stuff that is being talked about now with California seceding from the USA, or it could be that the San Andreas Fault split it off from the mainland, or a combination of both. I would have liked to have read more about that.

Throughout this book Lam had me ‘suspend disbelief’ so I was okay with floating buildings and hover cars. Of course I was – I love writing about weird way-out tech myself. I was enjoying the book immensely and devouring it. But it’s strange what kills that suspension of disbelief for me. Current science tells us FTL travel is impossible, but I’m okay with it. But what I’m not okay with is a silly mistake about science. When, in a Stephen Donaldson Gap book, a spaceship slowed down upon its drive being cut I tossed it aside. Just a couple of sentences in this book killed it for me. Near the end the heroine uses liquid nitrogen as a weapon. That’s fine, it will cause cold burns and certainly could make body armour frangible. However this liquid nitrogen was a corrosive acid, apparently, and a doctor sprayed on a medication to neutralize it. I can only think that liquid nitrogen here has been confused with nitric acid.

Shame, and such a silly easily corrected mistake. However, if you want a taste of a noir cyberpunk thriller along the lines of Neuromancer, and can read past an error like the above, I recommend this. I’ll certainly try more of her books. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Clayton Kreitlow

I started reading science fiction at an early age after raiding my grandfather’s bookshelf and finding many books by Jack Vance and John Jakes; When The Star Kings Die is still one of my favorites. Throw in some Edgar Rice Burroughs and you have the start of my love affair with science fiction. I was fortunate to have viewed Star Wars 7 times when it first came out and affirmed my infatuation with SF. In my early teens I was reading a lot of Anne McCaffrey and Stephen R. Donaldson, slipping into fantasy along with the odd SF books. After joining the military straight out of high school I discovered David Drake and his Slammers series. His writing style and damaged protagonists struck a chord with me and I eagerly devoured anything I could find with his name attached. His works with Steven White (Starfire Universe) remain favorites of mine and I seem to re-read them every few years. Same for his collaboration with S. M. Stirling.

After 8 years of  military service I went straight into civilian law enforcement. I found myself reading more and more space opera and military science fiction to go with my preference of cheesy science fiction movies. I read a lot of Battletech and Warhammer 40K novels and was not afraid to try new authors. I found myself with several bookshelves full and storing others in plastic tubs. My wife has tried several times to talk me into donating books to the local library but found I am very book-selfish and cannot bear to let them go (those I have let go I found myself later re-buying). #bookhoarder

With receiving the gift of a Kindle Fire I found my first Neal Asher book The Skinner. This led me to devouring everything I could find from him and eagerly waiting for the latest novel. I have noticed that a lot of readers favor Sniper and I count myself as one of them. The Polity Universe actually led me to other authors (Ian Banks Culture Universe primarily) and also gave me a new appreciation for A.I. and the possibilities it might present, both positive and negative.

I recently retired as a Captain and moved to sunny Southern California to be closer to my son and his family. I work part time and spend plenty of time reading and enjoying the weather. I enjoy being involved with car cruises/shows and am a MMA enthusiast with a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. My wife is incredibly tolerant of my antics and is herself a reader of mystery and intrigue.
Clayton B.                               

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Who Reads my Book: Caspian Windrich

I can still clearly recall my first childhood experiences with science fiction. I was nine years old when my father sought to broaden my literally horizons beyond graphic novels and fantasy series such as the Belgariad or The Lord of the Rings. He bought me an old cassette tape containing a BBC radio play adaptation of Arthur C. Clark's 'Childhood's End'. I was already deeply infatuated with the timeless Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy radio play, which is still the best adaptation of Douglas Adam's work in my opinion. But I digress, taking the cassette I asked him what it was about, and he replied: “It’s similar to the Hitchhikers Guide, or Star Wars, except much more serious. It’s called Hardcore Science Fiction. I think you'll like it.”

And thus it was that my young mind, weaned on the humorous and witty works of Douglas Adams, tasted the fountain of imagination that is science fiction, and found it spectacular.
However my literary fascination was not to last. During the age of 15 to18 I started dabbling in many different areas. Some of which I still hold dear, while others I now find unsavory. Heavy video gaming, street graffiti and other more exhilarating, or carnal pastimes began to turn my attention away from the page into the wider world.

Now, while every teenager should be allowed to express and vent their passions during this period of life. It should be done within reason, and without losing a sense of yourself. I certainly don't intend to waffle on about how to, or not, live your life. All I will say is that I made some bad decisions that caused me to lose faith in myself, and my aspirations in general. It was only my voracious obsession with exotic pet-keeping that kept my love and interest of the sciences and natural world alive.

During this period I kept numerous species of reptiles, invertebrates and tropical fish (the whole list I won't bore you with) although I will gabble (just a little) about my favourites. The Atlantic Mudskippers, Terrestrial Hermit Crabs, Colorado River Toads and my heavily planted Neocaridina Shrimp tank. Not to mention my beloved kitties Jez and Luna. Although an old favourite must still be “Hooder” a spear-limbed Mantis Shrimp whose intelligence and viciousness kept me perplexed throughout our time together. These animals gave my life purpose in more ways than I knew at the time, forcing me to continuously learn, adapt and improve my animal husbandry and knowledge, as they were both emotional investments and engaging research projects.

And this is where the Polity comes in. I remember picking up the newly released Orbus in 2009 when I was 15. I was trying to get back into reading but had found no books that would grip my imagination as they used to. Orbus changed all of that within the space of a year. I did not read that book. I consumed it. Quickly recommending it to one of my closest friends. He too became hooked, and we spent the next few years taking turns in acquiring the rest of the Polity universe, having discussions long into the night about cannibalistic crabs, gallivanting gabbleducks, broken brass men, and the delphically dangerous desires of Dragon. These stories blew apart my perception of “light reading” as I found myself eager to feast on them. Hungry for more exotic tech; ravenous to put together the pieces of the Atheter's suicide of sentience; intrigued by the moral impunity of the Prador; endlessly contemplating the 4th dimensional mind of sector AI's. The list does indeed go on.

These stories invigorated a new type of scientific thought in me, one that was not content to sit at home and passively study my pets. But to go out and confidently seek, to experiment, to test both established and assumed knowledge of zoology and the biosphere.

Asher's combination of compelling narrative, well researched and plausible alien worlds, and the style of writing that allows the reader to understand the story from multiple, often inhuman perspectives, caused a bit of a scientific Renaissance within me. And for that I am deeply grateful.

Not long after, I managed to land a job at a bespoke aquarium store in London, and have just kept walking my path from there.

Right now I’m studying Marine & Freshwater Biology at Aberystwyth University. It may not be the oceans of Spatterjay but it suits me just fine. Keep that keyboard typing Neal, at least until an aug comes along.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Ian Packman

Hi, my name is Ian Packman, although a lot of people call me E because Ian is such a long and difficult name to say. Originally I was from the sunny South East but now I have settled in the somewhat more rural county of Shropshire.

 Everyone seems to be starting with their jobs so I suppose I should start with that as well.

I spent the first 20 years of my working life serving Queen and Country as an Airframe Tech in the RAF. I served all over the UK (and occasionally abroad) working on Buccaneer, Jaguar, and Tornado. The last few years were spent back where I started, at the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering. This time however, I was the one standing at the front of the class doing the chalking and talking. A cyclical ending which appealed to me.

Eventually budget cuts and redundancy saw me return to Civvy Street and job hunting. One wet Thursday lunchtime I saw an ad in the paper for Train Drivers. I applied, got it, and now spend my days trundling up and down the Welsh border. It was never a schoolboy dream, and trains don’t really interest me outside of work but it is certainly a job that I love.

My father was a keen science fiction fan when I was growing up so all the books in the house had names like Asimov, Clarke, and Niven printed on the spine. That seems to be a theme around here! I stumbled across Neal Asher’s work whilst reading an article on Iain Banks. The (article) author said that people who liked the Culture often couldn’t get on with the Polity, and vice versa, although he himself loved both. I thought I’d give it a try and tracked down a copy of Gridlinked, along with Neal’s blog.

Gridlinked I loved. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the Polity AIs were not the omnipotent Gods of Banks’s Culture. There was actually stuff they couldn’t do just by employing field tech and advanced magic. Penny Royal has somewhat broken this idea but I think I read Neal saying that there was too much deus ex machina going on so that may change (no spoilers, I haven’t read Infinity Engine!).

In my free time I like to mess around with music. I used to play guitar in bands, nothing special, just a few gigs in local pubs, but the very unsociable shifts that I now work mean that had to go. Instead, along with a friend, I write and record songs at home for my own amusement. Strictly a hobby but sometimes other people like them as well. Once in a blue moon we will go out and play an acoustic set somewhere.

You can listen to our music here (you can listen for free, no need to buy): and there are a few videos here:



Friday, August 11, 2017

Who Reads my Books: David Nelson

I'm 51, from Australia, currently doing all things you need to with a newly built house; driveways, erecting sheds, landscaping etc. I have been an avid reader of all things weird and wonderful from an early age. Starting with the classic Golden Age era of Heinlein, Asimov, Silverberg, Clarke, etc, etc, and then onto the next generations.

That lasted until I turned 18 and I ventured into the world of cars, girls and all night partying...oh, and work, mainly construction and sheet metal work. Once that particular novelty wore off...around 25, I dived back into the worlds of the fantastic with such a voracious appetite I even conceived of the idea that I had something to offer the genre itself. All I can say about that effort, in typical social media vernacular

Me on the left, Alastair Reynolds on the right.

I do write stories, and have written a few books, but they're more within my, shall I say, abilities? Though, as I write this, you won't find any of my work published. Writing is a harsh mistress.
I discovered Mr. Asher around the time Britain was exploding again with talent. With such works by Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Baxter, China Mieville, Iain Banks, Justina Robson, Ken McKleod, Richard Morgan...the list seems endless, and to my delight, going back and finding the previous greats like Ian McDonald, M. John Harrison, John Brunner, and that list seems endless too.

Anyway, I decided to give Neal's Gridlinked a go, and found it quite palatable, but not quite mind blowing compared to the works that would come later from him. And yet, he has pretty much leap-frogged over most to become one of my all time favorite authors, period!!

Anyway, that's about it.


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Dave Loboda

I was born in Chester and raised in Runcorn In Cheshire I worked in an office when I first left school but then trained as a teacher, first of PE then, when I decided that football pitches in winter were no longer any fun, retrained in Maths and Science.  I took early retirement about 7 years ago when I became totally fed up with a job that developed into an exercise in ticking boxes and meeting exam targets rather than getting children to think and enjoy learning.

I am now able to enjoy all the things I like doing, especially playing golf, travelling, listening to music, walking and reading. I read anything – travel (Bill Bryson), thrillers (John Grisham, Robert Ludlum), science (Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins) to name a few - but above all, anything SF or SO.

I’ve been a science fiction nut from an early age.  I remember that the first SF book I read was “Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter” by Isaac Asimov (aka Paul French) and I was addicted to his books from then on. I went through all the works of Clarke, Heinlein, Smith, Bova, Herbert, Hamilton, Banks etc. etc. and was entranced by the worlds they invented for me to visit, the battles they fought and the amazing characters I travelled with.  I discovered Tolkien in my teens and “The Lord of the Rings” remains my all-time favourite book and I return to it quite regularly.

The first Neal Asher book I read was “Polity Agent” and, upon realising that it was part of a series (I’m quite slow at times), had to get the rest and read them in order.  Since then I have read almost all of his works and will get around to the rest soon (currently deep into Hamilton’s “Night Without Stars”).  I love the detail in the stories which help the reader to really get into the world where the action takes place.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Nikolaos Bampasis

Dear Neal and fellow readers, greetings.

My name is Nikolaos Bampasis, I am a 37 y.o. aerospace engineer currently living in Thessaloniki, Greece and working in the IT sector.

I have been an avid fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy for the most part of my life, ever since my father introduced me to the likes of Isaac Asimov, Athur C. Clarke, Frank Herbet and  others. Needless to say that he also made sure I watched all the sci-fi movies available at the time on VHS (about a million years ago it seems) describing how big those spaceships were, how fast they were going, what kind of hyper advanced weaponry they employed and so on. I was fascinated for life.

I spent a great deal of my youth sketching up my own versions of massive starships, huge robots and abhorrent monstrosities (the uglier the better)and that tendency lead up to me packing my suitcase and heading over to England to pursue a degree on Aerospace Engineering. I had a brief break in my studies in order to get the compulsory military service out of the way and then I went back to Scotland this time, to do a Masters degree on renewable energy and a PhD on Fuel Cell technology.

There I learned, among a great deal of other things, that there is a huge gap that separates the vision of the future and its transformation into practical reality, that there exists an intrinsic struggle in all creative endeavour between conceptualisation and operation, design and functionality, aesthetics and form. Sometimes in order to compromise we lose one or the other and the result is often crude or aesthetically irrelevant, but as science and technology continuously advance we find ourselves ever closer to the golden ratio and the end outcome of our struggles can be truly breathtaking.

I try keeping track of all current scientific and technological events mainly for knowledge's sake but apart from that my interests include reading as much as possible (physical books and audiobooks - digital format never appealed to me much -), listening to music (mostly heavy metal and all subgenres and classical music) and playing the occasional video game. Sometimes I host Call of Cthulhu RPG sessions but nowadays it's becoming far less frequent an event due to time limitations. I am also a martial arts practitioner currently holding a black belt rank in Duk Moo Kumdo which is the Korean art of the sword,similar in many respects to Japanese Kendo.

My first introduction to Neal Asher was through the owner of a speciality bookshop (Unknown Kadath) here in Thessaloniki, quite a few years ago. I went in desperately asking for something that included massive space battles, monsters, hyper advanced civilizations and so on. He immediately handed me "The Skinner" which I promptly bought and read in a span of a few days. It was awesome. Naturally more books followed and currently I am going through "War Factory" which I am loving. Neal has a way of merging gritty realism and ultra-exotic elements in an almost seamless fashion and the effort he puts into creating a believable yet utterly fascinating universe is something that I, as a reader, am truly grateful for.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Jim Watts

Trying to watch the KC Chiefs play.

I’m one of those Liberals that live in the failed democracy of North Carolina. I’m not terribly outspoken about it, but I do vote in every election. I love American football. My dog doesn’t. She thinks (rightfully so) that she should be the center of attention. I work in marketing for SAS Institute, one of the largest privately own software companies, and have been there for 28 years. Not bad for an English major from a small college. So, all-in-all, I’m a stereotypical suburbanite with somewhat normal vices all practiced simultaneously: Reading while smoking a cigar, drinking whisky and listening to progressive rock or jazz on my overstuffed 160 GB iPod. Yes, I also own (working) Zunes. I am furious that both Apple and Microsoft killed off their mp3 player lines.

Life is particularly good when a new Neal Asher book arrives

Reading books is what keeps me sane. I will read anything from SFF to history or even Victorian literature, but SFF is my favorite. I will typically polish off more than 120 books a year. My daughter and son are convinced the first “real” book I read to them was The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Now they’re studying for advanced degrees in Medieval Literature and Medieval History. My wife rightfully blames me. While my daughter tends more towards Octavia Butler when she’s not reading Medieval romance, I have successfully indoctrinated my son to be a fan of Neal Asher, Ian Banks, and Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, the chaps behind the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. He likes “Grimdark” Fantasy a lot.

Atop Conwy Castle in North Wales

I first stumbled across Neal Asher’s Polity somewhat mid-series several years ago. We didn’t have much of a selection in bookstores here so it may have even been a used copy of Brass Man that introduced me to his work. I was so enthralled that I subsequently buy everything he’s published, though often am forced to resort to Amazon since they’ve killed off virtually all the bookstores in suburbia. Brass Man is still my favorite, but I truly love the Spatterjay books as well. I’m currently on a Space Opera kick, so recommendations are welcome.

No. Of course it’s not too cold

Thanks for letting me share!


Jim Watts
Apex, North Carolina

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Found Them!

Yippeee! Sometimes I swear about computers but today I'm a happy bunny. While trying to figure out how to convert a pdf into a jpeg for my blog I ventured onto my clipboard. There I saw something unexpected: the title of a TV script called The Executioner's Lie. It turned out to be just a cover page for this TV script on an old file related to my old website. This was disappointing because I thought I had found some missing files.

When I was intending to move house last year I threw out lots of stuff, including discs with copies of my old files on them. I didn't need them anymore, they were old technology, I could put back-ups on flash drives and back-up to Dropbox etc. A while later , for whatever reasons, I decided to have a look at various TV scripts I’d written and could not find them anywhere. The horrible realisation began to impinge that in transferring files from my main computer here to the laptop I use in Crete and back again I had somehow lost them. I had to grit my teeth, tell myself that’s life and just get on. 
Today, after seeing that cover page, I decided to do some file searches using various words. I found a file called ‘Sitcom’ and this turned out to be one of those TV scripts. Further searching revealed another, then another, and then I found them all in a file called ‘Publisher’ which I did not recognize. I copied them to a new file ‘TV Scripts’ before then finding this ‘Publisher’ file. Bloody Hell – I’ve got them all back.
I’ve got a sitcom I wrote about annoying neighbours. This was based on reality: someone who had moved in below us when Caroline and I lived in a maisonette. I’ve got The Executioner’s Lie which is an hour-long thing set in a future where prime-time TV executions have been introduced. I’ve got a play set on the Millennium Dome and another called Woodstock’s Rats that I can hardly remember. But best of all I found a thing called Trines. This is a three-episode series set in England and involving an alien, quite like one of the Jain, living under the woods near a local town. Along with that I’ve also found the first five chapters of the book version of that I was writing too.


Who Reads my Books: Monique Gudgeon

Tricky writing about yourself…  briefly then, my name is Monique Gudgeon, born in 1958 which makes me 60 next year – heavens above!  I live in the depths of Dorset, England and am lucky enough to run a sculpture park with my sculpting husband Simon, and as Neal says I can plug stuff, here is our website – - visit as you wish, virtually or in corporeal form. 

The blurb hidden somewhere in the website says this, “Monique has been gardening in various capacities since leaving London and the world of public relations back in 1992.  Her horticultural career has led her from building gardens at Chelsea Flower Show (back doing that again next year), to a very short stint as a garden designer, and finally working at the world-renowned Architectural Plants nursery in Sussex.  She now concentrates her energies on her own garden as well as caring for six dogs and her husband, in that order.”

My first encounter of the world of SF was through my father who was a big Edgar Rice Burroughs fan.  First the Tarzan books and then the Mars series, Carson of Venus, Llana of Gathol, etc; from there we progressed together through John Wyndham’s work – The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos et al – then he left me to go and explore thrillers and spy novels, but by then I was hooked.   And so it has been ever since but with a generous sprinkling of fantasy and magic thrown in along the way – who doesn’t love a dragon?  My first encounter of Neal Asher’s work was through a friend in San Francisco who recommended I start with The Skinner, she also admitted that she would like to be transported to live in The Polity.  I kind of agree, there is much to recommend it, especially the autodoc, runcible gates and sarcasm prone drones and AIs, but it also sounds kind of dangerous and I’m not very brave.  Why I enjoy Neal’s books? He writes an excellent fast-moving yarn with some fabulous characterizations, imaginative landscapes peppered with fantastic beasts, plus the baddies are REALLY bad and the weapons are awesomely destructive.  What more do you need in a SF novel?

I’d love to read more about Orlandine and I kind of wish that naughty old Sniper would reappear one day, although he must be very old by now… 

I ran the London Marathon in 2016 in aid of The Dogs Trust and I support some dog rescue and re-homing charities here and in Spain – I like dogs more than people mostly…